Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cognitive Learning Practices - Week 3

This week’s learning resources address how our brain processes information, and how educators can use this information to facilitate student learning.  Much of the information relates to how students can transfer information/data to their short-term memories, and then to their long-term memories.  When students make a meaningful relationship with this storage system, they will be better able to retrieve this information when needed.  As Dr. Orey states in his video, it is not that students forgot a fact; it is students forgot how to retrieve that fact.
Howard Pitler addresses cues, questions, and advance organizers as a strategy to help students in this endeavor of retrieving information.  Cues and questions are similar in that they attempt to trigger something in students’ memories to allow them to retrieve the needed information.  An example would be a teacher trying to help a student remember when Christopher Columbus discovered America.  The teacher might say, “Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” and let the student finish with the correct answer.  In my AP Physics class today, I helped my students memorize formulas for the moment of inertia of a rotating object.  I related a long rod rotated about one of its ends to a baseball bat. Its inertia formula is 1/3 ML2.  A baseball player swings a 1/3 ML2 rod.  Now when a student forgets the moment of inertia of a rod rotated about its end, I could ask him about the baseball player.  This question strategy is similar to a cue in that it will trigger the retrieval of information. 

Advance organizers help with memory as well, but in a different way.  Advance organizers can help students classify information in an attempt to keep information organized.  In this way, students can make better sense of large amounts of information.  When students can keep this information straight, and have a better understanding of the meaning of the information, there is a better chance of retrieval of this information when needed.  I have been using a graphic organizer for years in my physics classes.  Students are required to have a column for all the given information in a problem.  They are also required to have a column for the information they need to find.  They must also start solving the assigned problem with an equation.  In requiring students to use this advance organizer, they are able to stay more organized throughout their solving of the problem.  Even though students do not like to do this because they feel it is quicker to just “do the work in my head,” students will need the organization skills when solving more complex problems involving multiple unknown variables.  These problems cannot be solved in their heads as they will need to use multiple equations to solve problems with multiple unknowns.  When students have to solve a type of problem they have not seen recently, using the graphic organizer will help them stay organized and remind them of the process used.

There are many advance organizers students may use.  Many of them involve the use of technology.  Word processing and spreadsheet software allows students to take notes.  Many of my current students use these applications regularly with success.  There are also online organizers.  Kidspiration and Inspiration are two that are mentioned in our text.  While I have not used them, they appear to be easy to use and extremely helpful.  The additional benefit of using technology is that students have grown up using these tools.  Students tend to prefer using computer applications over traditional tools, such as paper and pencil.  When students use these tools, there is a better chance the information they are processing will enter both the short-term and long-term memory locations in their brains.

The other strategy in our text that we studied this week is “Summarizing and Note Taking.”  This is a skill that almost all students need to practice.  Even my “cream of the crop” students do not understand how to take notes or to summarize.  This is a skill that must be practiced.  Many students are afraid if they delete a piece of information, it will not be in their notes when they need it.  I am constantly working with students with their note-taking skills.  While I feel like some progress is being made, I feel I could use more advance organizers to allow students to take better notes.

Concept mapping is another tool presented.  Using this strategy, students are able to organize information.  The concept map allows students to rearrange various nodes of information to a format that suits each learner.  Software tools can also take the concept map and export it into an outline.  I have not used these in the past, but I certainly feel like it is something I can implement into my classes. 

Virtual field trips are another strategy used by teachers.  Field trips are valuable experienced if properly planned out.  Students can perform more hands-on tasks on a field trip.  Unfortunately, logistics prevent students from taking many field trips throughout the year.  A virtual field trip can provide many of the same benefits.  I have been taking my physics students to an amusement park at the end of the year.  While it is a fun trip, students are expected to collect data and solve physics problems as they relate to the rides.  With many students playing spring sports, it is very difficult to have everyone attend the trip.  For these students, and other students who do not wish to pay to attend the field trip, students can take a virtual field trip.  Youtube has many attractions from amusement parks all over the United States.  Virtual field trips put students in a real-life situation without actually going there.  Students tend to find these more interesting, and will make learning meaningful on these virtual field trips.  This in turn, will allow greater retrieval of information when it is needed due to the associations students are able to make.


  1. Tim,

    It is funny that you say that all of your students could use help with their summarizing and note taking skills. This is a concern in my school as well. I used to struggle with note taking. As a visual learner what finally helped me make sense of the process was combination notes "......which employ outlining, webbing, and pictographs in addition to words.(Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, Malenoski, 2007)”. This simple strategy changed learning for me in a huge way. I started understanding what I was learning faster and easier. I had better recall and testing experiences. I recommend this for all students, especially those who are visual learners.

    Pitler, H., Hubbell, E.R., Kuhn, M., Malenoski, K. (2007). Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works. Alexandria, Va: ASCD.

  2. Nice post, Tim. I like how you talk so much about organizing information. Organizing the information presented is crucial for students. I like the idea of organizers because there are so many different types. Students like to organize their information in different ways. I like that this leaves room for creativity on their part.

    I have used both kidspiration and inspiration and it is wonderful. It is very fun and easy to use. The kids LOVE using these programs because they can really make it their own. It would be worth your time to try these out and see what you think. Good post, Tim.

  3. Organizing information is critical in my opinion. Different students perform this task differently. We need to make students aware of the various ways of taking notes and keeping information organized. The combination notes may work for a lot of students. For others, a different solution is needed. There are many more online tools available now that were not there even five years ago. Hopefully students can find what works for them.

    Tim Trotta